BookPage Nonfiction Top Pick, January 2016
In The Road to Little Dribbling, as in all of Bill Bryson’s travel books, you can be assured of two constants: first, that your guide is a sensualist who immerses himself (and thus, the reader) in all the sights, sounds, smells and tastes he encounters on his wanderings; and second, that along the way he will spot surprises, incongruities and contradictions that he obligingly transmutes into laughter. On this pilgrimage, he invites us to join him as he zigzags the length of Britain, from Bognor Regis in the south to Cape Wrath in the north. (There is, by the way, no Little Dribbling.)
This is not a walking tour, although Bryson is often afoot. At other times he resorts to rail or car. Whatever his vehicle, he takes us to dozens of visit-worthy places we might otherwise never have heard of. Among these are the ancient, man-made Silbury Hill, a 10-story earthen mound near Avebury, and the equally puzzling prehistoric stone towers (or “brochs”) in Glenelg, Scotland, whose purpose has yet to be fathomed.
“There isn’t anywhere in the world with more to look at in a smaller space,” Bryson asserts, noting that Britain has 26 World Heritage Sites and 600,000 known archaeological sites. No detail seems too tiny to escape his eye. In Wales, he notices that the main story on the front page of the local newspaper that reported Dylan Thomas’ death was not about the young bard’s passing but rather about the “mysterious disappearance of a farm couple.”
Bryson’s wry wit abounds. He describes a particularly slow train as “rigor mortis with scenery” and observes that a town in which he finds no charm was “bombed heavily during the Second World War, though perhaps not quite heavily enough.” The history of the Scottish highlands, he reflects, is “five hundred years of cruelty and bloodshed followed by two hundred years of way too much bagpipe music.” Could one hope for a better traveling companion?